NHL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, most interesting December games

ByTim Kavanagh ESPN logo
Friday, December 1, 2023

We've made it past the NHL's quarter mark, and as we turn our calendars over to the final month of the 2023 calendar year, there are a great many fantastic matchups to watch before the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Whether it's playoff-bound juggernauts facing off for the first time this season or fans getting to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar jersey, there is something special in store for all 32 clubs.

For this week's edition of the Power Rankings -- which feature a new team at No. 1! -- we've identified the most interesting game (or games) on the December slate for each team.

How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors each send in a 1-32 poll based on the games through Wednesday, which generates our master list here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the previous edition, published Nov. 24. Points percentages are through the games of Nov. 30.

1. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 4

Points percentage: 78.57%

Next seven days: @ NSH (Dec. 2), vs. SJ (Dec. 3), @ OTT (Dec. 5)

Game of the month: Dec. 22 vs. Edmonton. Sure, there's another matchup against the Bruins this month, but stars shine brighter on Broadway, so we're anxious to see what Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl & Co. have in store for their matchup at Madison Square Garden this season.

2. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 1

Points percentage: 75.00%

Next seven days: @ TOR (Dec. 2), vs. CBJ (Dec. 3), vs. BUF (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 16 vs. New York Rangers. Round 1 between these two Eastern powers went to the Blueshirts, 7-4, last weekend. Who takes Round 2, with the setting changed to TD Garden?

3. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 2

Points percentage: 70.83%

Next seven days: vs. WSH (Dec. 2), vs. STL (Dec. 4), @ STL (Dec. 6)

Game of the month: Dec. 23 at Florida. As the reigning champs, the Knights have been getting every opponent's best effort in every game. But there's something different about a matchup against the team you defeated in the Cup Final. Expect some fire in this one.

4. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 5

Points percentage: 72.50%

Next seven days: vs. COL (Dec. 3), @ CBJ (Dec. 5), @ MTL (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 30 vs. Edmonton. The past two Kings seasons have concluded thanks to playoff series losses to the Oilers. So while the ultimate goal of advancing farther than the first round won't be achieved until the spring, L.A. can get some small amount of revenge here in this one -- and perhaps do a very small part in keeping Edmonton out of the playoff field by denying them points on this night.

5. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 8

Points percentage: 70.45%

Next seven days: @ ANA (Dec. 2), @ LA (Dec. 3), vs. ANA (Dec. 5), vs. WPG (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 9 vs. Philadelphia. Three teams at the 2017 NHL draft decided that they'd rather have a player not named Cale Makar in their system. The Devils (who selected Nico Hischier No. 1) and Stars (who took Miro Heiskanen No. 3) are clearly happy with their choices. The same can't be said about the Flyers, who took Nolan Patrick No. 2; Patrick played in 197 games for the Flyers, totalling 70 points, prior to a trade to Vegas. Makar doesn't seem like the vindictive type, but maybe there's some extra motivation for him here. (Hey, it's not exactly the most thrilling December schedule for the Avs.)

6. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 3

Points percentage: 64.58%

Next seven days: @ CGY (Dec. 2), vs. NJ (Dec. 5), vs. MIN (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 14 vs. Florida. In a preview of a potential Cup Final that would delight hockey writers and terrify those who pay for their travel expenses, this one will also feature two of the brightest young American stars in the sport in Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk.

7. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 6

Points percentage: 69.05%

Next seven days: vs. TB (Dec. 2), @ TB (Dec. 4), @ FLA (Dec. 6), @ WSH (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 9 vs. Vegas. The first two rounds of the 2023 Western Conference finals rematch series needed extra time, with the Knights coming out on top 3-2 in a shootout on Oct. 17 and in overtime on Nov. 22. Will this be another close one between two top-flight Cup contenders?

8. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 7

Points percentage: 65.22%

Next seven days: vs. NYI (Dec. 2), vs. DAL (Dec. 6)

Game of the month: Dec. 27 at Tampa Bay. Sure, the Panthers will play their two Cup Final rematches against the Golden Knights in a 13-day span (Dec. 23 and Jan. 4), but we have to give the honor for "most interesting game of the month" to the first of three Battle of Florida matchups for this regular season.

9. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 12

Points percentage: 61.36%

Next seven days: vs. BUF (Dec. 2), WPG (Dec. 4), @ EDM (Dec. 6), @ CGY (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 19 vs. Vegas. The Canes don't play the Rangers this month -- the team they're currently chasing for the Metro Division lead -- so we'll pick this matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champs. In the past few years, a growing number of people have been picking Sebastian Aho & Co. as their preseason Cup prediction so this is a good barometer for how close they really are.

10. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 9

Points percentage: 59.09%

Next seven days: vs. CHI (Dec. 2), vs. CAR (Dec. 4), @ COL (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 13 at Los Angeles. It's a reunion for the Jets with former teammate Pierre-Luc Dubois, who the team traded to the Kings this summer. PLD and his new team took Round 1 of the season series back on Oct. 17; who wins this time?

11. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 11

Points percentage: 64.29%

Next seven days: vs. BOS (Dec. 2), @ OTT (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 9 vs. Nashville. The prodigal Ryan O'Reilly returns! After a brief sojourn with the Leafs at the tail end of 2022-23 and into the postseason, the veteran pivot (and Clinton, Ontario native) moved back down South on a four-year deal. What kind of reception will he get for this one?

12. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 15

Points percentage: 61.36%

Next seven days: @ MTL (Dec. 2), @ BUF (Dec. 5), vs. SJ (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 5 at Buffalo (or maybe Dec. 7 vs. San Jose?). The Patrick Kane signing was the most anticipated in-season piece of business remaining (until we get to trade season once the calendar flips). Now that the contract is signed, when will we see No. 88 in action? Early buzz is that it'll be that game in his hometown of Buffalo, but that just makes the Sharks game his home debut.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 14

Points percentage: 52.08%

Next seven days: @ DAL (Dec. 2), vs. DAL (Dec. 4), vs. PIT (Dec. 6), @ NSH (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 31 vs. Montreal. A rematch of the fever dream that was the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, a second straight Cup for the Lightning in pandemic-influenced circumstances. Oh, and also a superb "destination game" for the Canadian snowbirds out there.

14. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 10

Points percentage: 65.00%

Next seven days: @ VGK (Dec. 2), @ ARI (Dec. 4), vs. DAL (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 23 vs. Tampa Bay. Due to the Capitals playing in the Southeast Division prior to the latest NHL realignment, the team against whom Alex Ovechkin has scored the most career goals is the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets. But No. 2 on the list (for a similar reason) is the Lightning! And while 2023-24 Ovi has been well behind his usual goal-scoring pace, perhaps this will be the game where he gets back on track in his quest to topple Wayne Gretzky's record.

15. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 26

Points percentage: 50.00%

Next seven days: vs. NYR (Dec. 2), @ BUF (Dec. 3), @ CHI (Dec. 5), vs. TB (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 23 vs. Stars. Matt Duchene scored 197 points in 249 games for the Predators between 2019-20 and 2022-23 prior to being bought out by the team this past summer. The Stars moved in to quickly sign the 2009 No. 3 pick, and he's been a key contributor for them this season. What kind of reaction will he get from the Smashville faithful in his first game back?

16. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 16

Points percentage: 56.82%

Next seven days: @ ARI (Dec. 2), @ VGK (Dec. 4), vs. VGK (Dec. 6)

Games of the month: Dec. 4 at Vegas, Dec. 6 vs. Vegas. With the Blues among the clubs in playoff position as the calendar turns to December, many hockey fans are wondering: Is this team for real? A home-and-home against the defending Cup champs will tell us all quite a bit about just how serious to take St. Louis.

17. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 13

Points percentage: 52.17%

Next seven days: @ PIT (Dec. 2), vs. PIT (Dec. 4), @ ARI (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 2 at Pittsburgh, Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh. One of the surprises of the season is that as of Dec. 1, the Flyers are ahead of the Penguins in the standings. Philly can make a statement with this home-and-home mini-series against their rivals.

18. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 18

Points percentage: 54.76%

Next seven days: vs. SJ (Dec. 1), @ VAN (Dec. 5), @ SEA (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 5 at Vancouver. With recent news that the NHL and NHLPA are looking to resurrect the hockey World Cup (or whatever you want to call an international tournament with four teams), and the belief that NHL players will participate in the 2026 Olympics, some American fans are extra excited to see all three Hughes brothers compete for Team USA. But before any of that, the first family of American hockey will have a milestone on this night, as Jack and Luke visit big brother Quinn, with this being the first NHL game the trio will play against each other. (The return match is Jan. 6 in Newark.)

19. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 19

Points percentage: 54.55%

Next seven days: vs. STL (Dec. 2), vs. WSH (Dec. 4), vs. PHI (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 12 at Pittsburgh. Logan Cooley is off to a strong start in his rookie campaign, and is certainly a building block for the Zona Yotes as they push back towards contention. He's also a Pittsburgh native, who started his hockey journey as a "Little Penguin" -- the youth hockey program started by Sidney Crosby. This will be Cooley's first NHL game back home against Crosby & Co.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 17

Points percentage: 52.27%

Next seven days: vs. PHI (Dec. 2), @ PHI (Dec. 4), @ TB (Dec. 6)

Game of the month: Dec. 18 vs. Minnesota. Sure, there are a number of critical matchups against fellow playoff hopefuls on the docket this month, but we'd be remiss not to circle this matchup, which -- pending the whims of new head coach John Hynes -- will see Marc-Andre Fleury patrolling the creases on Pittsburgh ice.

21. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 24

Points percentage: 47.83%

Next seven days: @ CAR (Dec. 2), vs. NSH (Dec. 3), vs. DET (Dec. 5), @ BOS (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 5 vs. Detroit, Dec. 31 at Ottawa. All games count equally in the standings, but with the Sabres being grouped with the Senators and Red Wings in the "Atlantic Risers" trio, these games serve as a measuring stick for which team is closest to contention. Buffalo has gone 1-0 against Ottawa this season, but has yet to play Detroit. Oh and we almost forgot: The Dec. 5 game could be the Red Wings debut for Buffalo native Patrick Kane.

22. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 22

Points percentage: 54.55%

Next seven days: @ FLA (Dec. 2), vs. SJ (Dec. 5), vs. CBJ (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 27 vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 31 at Pittsburgh. No games against their rival Rangers or Devils this month, so we'll go with a pair against a team looking to oust them from a spot among the playoff contenders.

23. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 25

Points percentage: 50.00%

Next seven days: vs. VAN (Dec. 2), vs. MIN (Dec. 5), vs. CAR (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 18 vs. Florida. While there may be some heat for the Flames' Dec. 9 matchup hosting Tyler Toffoli and his new team, the Devils, we'd bet there will be a bit more interest for a different Eastern visitor later in the month, which counts a more prominent former Flame among its claw (yes, that's what a group of panthers is called). Matthew Tkachuk got a standing ovation in last season's visit, and while we wouldn't expect that again, there are sure to be a good number of No. 19 sweaters in the crowd.

24. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 28

Points percentage: 43.18%

Next seven days: vs. CAR (Dec. 6)

Game of the month: Dec. 6 vs. Carolina. The Oilers have had a well-documented tumultuous season. A fire was apparently lit recently, as they ran roughshod over the Caps and Ducks to a combined score of 13-2, followed by a thrilling shootout win over the Golden Knights. This coming Wednesday, they'll take on another team that was among the top preseason Cup favorites, which will be a true test of whether they've really turned a corner.

25. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 27

Points percentage: 47.83%

Next seven days: vs. DET (Dec. 2), vs. SEA (Dec. 4), vs. LA (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 2 vs. Detroit. After years of serious Stanley Cup contention, the Red Wings chose to lean into a rebuild, a process which is nearing its end as they sit in playoff position right now. The Canadiens haven't had as much success this century (notwithstanding their Cup Final run in the bizarro 2021 playoffs), and are a season or so behind the Wings in their rebuild process. So perhaps this is a glimpse of the future for Habs fans. If nothing else, it'll be a showcase of two of the most iconic uniforms in sports.

26. Seattle Kraken

Previous ranking: 23

Points percentage: 45.83%

Next seven days: @ OTT (Dec. 2), @ MTL (Dec. 4), vs. NJ (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 18 at Dallas. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since the Stars outlasted the Kraken in the second round of the 2023 playoffs. While the Stars look like they haven't missed a step, the Kraken have yet to find that next gear that made them so dangerous last spring.

27. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 21

Points percentage: 47.06%

Next seven days: @ CBJ (Dec. 1), vs. SEA (Dec. 2), vs. NYR (Dec. 5), vs. TOR (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 7 vs. Toronto, Dec. 27 at Toronto. In order to get back on track towards a playoff spot, the Sens are going to have to jump over a lot of teams. But one of them is their Ontarian rivals, a team they beat 6-3 back on Nov. 8.

28. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 20

Points percentage: 39.13%

Next seven days: vs. COL (Dec. 2), @ COL (Dec. 5), @ CHI (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 29 vs. Arizona. Despite a rough run lately, the Ducks should be encouraged by the progress of their new wave of young talent (aside from Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, both currently on IR). This game pits them against another Western riser (albeit one who may also need another year of seasoning before they truly contend for the playoffs).

29. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 30

Points percentage: 37.50%

Next seven days: vs. OTT (Dec. 1), @ BOS (Dec. 3), vs. LA (Dec. 5), @ NYI (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 1 vs. Ottawa. Is it too early to start projecting out the draft lottery odds for 2024? There have been better seasons in the history of these two franchises -- and frankly, there is a lot of talent on both rosters. Nevertheless, these are your bottom two in the Eastern Conference entering this clash (to be fair, the Sharks, Blackhawks and Wild are behind both of them).

30. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 29

Points percentage: 42.86%

Next seven days: vs. CHI (Dec. 3), @ CGY (Dec. 5), @ VAN (Dec. 7)

Games of the month: Dec. 30 at Winnipeg, Dec. 31 vs. Winnipeg. Much has gone sideways for the Wild this season, eventually leading to the dismissal of head coach Dean Evason this week. While we await the full scale of the after-effects of that move, Wild fans can look forward to a back-to-back, home-and-home series against one of their closest geographic rivals to close out the calendar year.

31. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 31

Points percentage: 33.33%

Next seven days: @ WPG (Dec. 2), @ MIN (Dec. 3), vs. NSH (Dec. 5), vs. ANA (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 17 vs. Vancouver. Phenom Connor Bedard grew up a Canucks fan in North Vancouver, and while he won't get to play against them at Rogers Arena until Jan. 22, he will get to skate against this season's surprise juggernaut in front of his team's crowd this month.

32. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 32

Points percentage: 26.09%

Next seven days: @ NJ (Dec. 1), @ NYR (Dec. 3), @ NYI (Dec. 5), @ DET (Dec. 7)

Game of the month: Dec. 10 at Vegas. There was a time when Sharks-Knights games featured two teams getting extra feisty with each other, battling for position near the top of the standings, or in playoff series. Times have changed, and these two clubs are on quite divergent paths now. But hey, the Sharks did pull off a win against the Canucks last week, so maybe they have more magic up their sleeves for this one (or at least more than was on display in the 4-1 and 5-0 losses to Vegas earlier this season).

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